Dark and, at times, amusing fiction from award-winning author Dave Zeltserman

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


(MIND PRISON is also available as a kindle eBook. The story will be presented on this blog over the next four days)

Part 1
I could tell from their faces that they weren’t going to be receptive, but it didn’t matter. I already had the Governor sold and the Governor’s council sold, and more importantly, I had the State Senate President sold. The best these five could do was put up a speed bump.
I introduced myself as Graham Winston and gave them my credentials: PhD in electrical engineering from MIT and top of my class at Harvard Medical. Before I could start the presentation, a heavyset woman, her voice trembling with moral indignation, stopped me.
“Dr. Winston,” she asked, “don’t you consider what you’re doing inhuman?”
“And why would that be?”
“Because,” she said, her pitch rising, “what you are proposing is to warehouse human beings. Basically, you want to pen prisoners up as if they were nothing but fatted calves!”
I gave her and her companions a hard look. I already had approval to start the clinical trials and I didn’t really need their support. This was a waste of time. I felt a little anxious as I glanced at my watch. It was eleven o’clock and I was supposed to meet Svetlana at twelve thirty. It had taken me a week to convince her to see me and I couldn’t afford to let this meeting mess that up. I politely told the woman that I believed what I was proposing was far more humane than the system that was currently in place. I asked if she could withhold judgment and questions until I was done with my presentation. I could tell she didn’t appreciate my answer, but she forced her mouth shut.
I went through the slides showing the financial and social benefits, and they really were dramatic. It costs eighty thousand dollars a year in Massachusetts to house an inmate in a maximum security prison and my proposed system would reduce that to less than ten thousand dollars. The social benefits were equally dramatic. Every year violent criminals were either released early or given reduced sentences because of lack of prison space. With my system there would never be any space problems. My audience, though, sat stone-faced through my presentation.
As I wrapped up the slides, a bony man in his early fifties with pale fish eyes, started to question the moral integrity of what I was proposing. I stopped him and asked if I could answer him after the demo. He looked insulted, but agreed to wait.
I led them from the conference room to the lab. In the middle of the lab, a purebred boxer lay in a container with about a dozen electrodes attached to its body. A catheter was also attached, as was an intravenous feeding tube. Several optical wires, each the width of a single human hair, ran out of the dog’s skull. The animal appeared to be asleep. One of my audience members let out a gasp. I ignored her and inserted a tape into the VCR.
“This specimen was chosen,” I said, “because of his antisocial and aggressive behavior. This video was taken hours before attaching the dog to the MP100—or Mind Prison system.”
The video showed the dog being taken into a room with several other dogs. Almost immediately, the boxer forced itself on one of the smaller dogs and tried to mount it. And just as quickly it lunged at one of the other dogs. Fortunately, I had a firm grip of his leash and was able to keep him from doing any damage. The video ended with me throwing a Frisbee to the animal, which he watched with indifference.
I turned off the video and walked over to the dog.
“He’s been connected to the system for a week now,” I said, as I scratched him behind one of his ears. “Technology has existed for several years which converts digital images to rudimentary signals that the brain can process. This has proven helpful to the blind. My technology is a revolutionary improvement over that. What I’m doing is converting complex computer images to impulses that are fed directly into the prefrontal cortex, right angular gyrus, amygdala, and hippocampus areas of the brain. This in effect allows me to simulate consciousness.”
I turned on a flat-panel monitor that sat above the dog. The images on it showed a Black Labrador being thrown a Frisbee. The Labrador chased after it and caught it in mid-flight. He then brought it back to his owner and dropped it at his feet and barked. Simultaneously, the boxer made a slight noise.
“The test subject is right now experiencing what is being shown on the monitor. Although it’s nothing but a computer simulation, as far as he’s concerned, he’s chasing and catching Frisbees. We call these simulations scripts. The Labrador script has been running for two days. A two-day script, though, might actually simulate a month or more of activity. The script we ran before this was of a Basset Hound. In that one the dog spent his time socializing with other dogs and their owners.”
I looked at my watch and saw it was almost twelve. I had to hurry things up. I started removing the electrodes, catheter, and feeding tube from the boxer. I then used a special instrument to remove the optical wires from his skull. The dog opened his eyes and then pushed himself up and jumped off the table. He was wagging his tail, greeting the stunned members of my audience. He was quite a bit different from the vicious beast they had seen in the video. I took a Frisbee from a shelf, called the dog over, and then gave the Frisbee a short toss. The dog took off and caught it in mid-air. He then brought it back to me and dropped it at my feet and let loose with a bark, his tail wagging a mile a minute.
The bony guy with the fish eyes seemed impressed. “Can this rehabilitate prisoners?” he asked.
“They’re going to be spending their days living productive and enriching lives. Yes, it should be a positive influence on them.”
He thought about that, and asked, “If the prisoners are going to be lying for years at a time, how do you, uh, keep their muscles from atrophying?”
“We electrically stimulate the muscles,” I said. “Muscle stimulation, feeding, cleaning, and health monitoring are all automated.” I showed a thin smile. “The average prisoner will be healthier when they leave than when they entered.”
I had won most of them over, but not the heavyset woman. Her eyes were shining brightly with moral superiority.
“What type of existence could they possibly have,” she demanded, “if they’re simply plugged into a computer with all free will and thought taken away from them?”
“What type of life do they have now?” I asked. “Prisoners lives are filled with boredom, drugs, brutality, and worse. We’re developing scripts to let them live as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, and countless other great thinkers and artists. We’ll allow them to spend their days discovering the theory of relativity, inventing the light bulb, or writing Tom Sawyer. And every few days a new script will be selected and a new adventure will begin. What we’re offering is paradise.”
The woman started to argue with me but I held up my hand. “I have someplace else I have to be,” I said. “My assistant, Dr. Allison Hanson, will answer any further questions you may have.”
I called Hanson on the phone and less than a minute later, as arranged, she entered the lab with several small dogs on leashes. The dogs backed up at the sight of the boxer, but the boxer ambled over to them civilly and wagged his tail.
I introduced Dr. Hanson to my audience and then left.

Part 2 tomorrow

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